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Adventures of a single parent: Exploring Anchorage, solo

  • Written by Julie Boselly, Publisher

My parenting schedule ensures I have every other weekend without kids. I have the luxury of doing whatever suits me: seeing friends, going to the theatre, sitting at home power-watching movies, or traveling.

If I can afford it, traveling wins. As much as I would love for friends to join me, it’s not always possible to match schedules.  Therefore, be brave and travel solo!

There are many places you can easily and safely travel to for a weekend. You may not see everything you want to see at that destination, but it’s still possible to have a fantastic trip.

My last solo adventure was to Anchorage, Alaska, in July, when the weather was a reasonable temperature.

Since I don’t have kids Thursdays, I can take off Thursdays, after my deadlines are met, to Sunday. Then, I am back in time to see my kids again on Monday.

Solo traveling doesn’t necessarily mean “cheaper” traveling. Hotels, cruises and other costs are priced based on double occupancy.  Plus, you aren’t splitting the costs with another adult. As with all my traveling, I wait until I have air miles and I tend to stay in hotels that aren’t 4-star.

I had researched some adventures in Alaska, before booking the whole trip. From Anchorage, there are many directions you can go: Denali National Park, Seward, Whittier and more. You can rent a car, or you can ride the train. Renting a car was going to be expensive, but the train also seemed expensive. From Whittier and Seward, you can venture out on short boat rides through the Kenai Fjords National Park waterways, which is what I wanted to do.

As I kept perusing the World Wide Web, I found some packages that seemed reasonable. Alaska Railroad has some great examples to get you started. You can go with them, or you can keep researching to find exactly what fits your budget. I located a cruise company out of Seward. Their 5-hour cruise was combined with round-trip train fare and lunch for $208 total. When booking from the train’s site, it is $188 for the tour, plus additional train fare, totaling around $334. It pays to look both ways. I scheduled my trip through the cruise company.

I then reserved my hotel room and a Thursday evening flight. This is happening!

Our customers were fabulous during departure week, and I was able to head to the airport early. I even managed to get on an earlier flight than planned and arrived in Anchorage around 7 p.m. No auto rental is required if you pick a hotel with a shuttle. I did just that and was at my hotel within minutes of calling to let them know I arrived.  I stayed a bit outside of downtown (in mid-town) Anchorage. It was a quiet area, with not much to do directly around the hotel. I ate dinner in the small hotel restaurant, walked around the area, then settled in for the night. In the summer, it stays light until very late at night. The hotels have dark curtains to help you get some sleep.

Friday was a free day so I got up, packed my backpack, and took the hotel shuttle into downtown Anchorage. It was pouring rain but we’re used to that. Pack a rain coat! There was a couple from Oregon on the shuttle with me, we chatted and I, sort of, paid attention to the driver giving us pointers. We all thought we were going into the Visitor Center but we actually went into the Federal Building. It was a good mistake to make. They have historical information, maps, books, park rangers to answer any questions, and some very serious security guards. No joking or eye-rolling here. Remove your belt when you are told to and don’t talk back! I didn’t behave badly, that was someone else.

24The actual Anchorage Visitor Center is across the street from the Federal Building/Public Lands Information Center. (All photos by Julie Boselly)

Hungry for breakfast, I asked a guard for best places to eat and was directed down the street. I clearly wasn’t listening closely (notice a theme) and had to duck under cover to look up breakfast spots on my phone.

A woman came out of her store, locking the door behind her. She mentioned she was going to get a bite to eat so I asked where she was headed. I followed her around the corner, to the best little spot in town, Pil’s Deli. I try to eat some local food when I travel. Reindeer sausage is on many menus in Alaska, so I had that in my breakfast burrito.

There were some couples (all friends traveling together) sitting in the restaurant. We all talked about where we were from and where we were headed. They had come in to town on a cruise. I don’t know if I am more social when I am solo or people wonder why I am alone so they ask me questions. Maybe it’s a combination of both.

After filling up on coffee, I had hoped to rent a bike and ride along The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. There are a couple rental choices near the trail. One shop located in a parking lot, in a shipping container, was closed. With the pouring down rain, I opted for more walking.

25A map of the trail system in Anchorage along the Coastal Trail. Many maps are available online if you want to plan ahead.

After I was sufficiently soaked, I walked back up to the main drag and window/gift shopped. There are plenty of touristy stores to find t-shirts and trinkets. With a constant flow of cruise lines coming in all summer, the town is very tourist friendly.

After a few hours, I decided to get out of the weather. I ate lunch at a chain restaurant and let my coat and phone dry out. What not to do when traveling alone: get your cell phone drenched where it’s unusable for some period of time. I was certain it was a goner, but it eventually let me call my hotel for a shuttle back. How did it get drenched? I was texting someone back home.

My big plans were for the all-day excursion Saturday, so I didn’t feel guilty eventually calling it quits in Anchorage and watching movies in my hotel room. It was still hard to see the sun up as I headed to bed.

The shuttle took me to the train depot at the ridiculous hour of 5:30 a.m. for 5:45 a.m. check-in. I was in the last car in an assigned seat, but it wasn’t full so it was roomy.

I am always the driver in the family so it was a treat to be able to look out the windows, wander the train, go outside for fresh air, and take a million photos.

22You won’t want to sleep on the train. There are beautiful views the entire trip.

We arrived in Seward at 11 a.m., were shuttled to the boat check-in and boarded a noon cruise. They work together seamlessly.

The cruise was designated as a wildlife cruise. It was narrated by a park ranger so we heard about every animal, mammal, bird, and glacier we passed by. There were a couple of occasions someone thought they saw whales but it wasn’t until the cruise was coming to an end that that magical moment happened: a humpback whale put on a long, amazing show for us as we headed back to port. I tried to snap some photos but eventually put down the camera and just watched.

15Bear Glacier, the largest glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park.

17.5A humpback whale put on an amazing show for us, breaching multiple times.

We returned to the train at 5:30 p.m. and watched the sun set all the way back to Anchorage. I ate dinner in the dining car. If you’re solo, you get seated with other solos. The poor kid headed to his parents for the weekend seemed uncomfortable sitting across from me, so I tried to not bug him too much.

Train tidbits: On board, they have snacks and a full dining car, outlets in various locations, and spaces to stand outside and take photos or simply enjoy the fresh air. Staff narrates most of the ride, pointing out glaciers, animal sightings and information about various waterways and waterfalls.

My phone died on me. Even with the onboard outlets, it wouldn’t charge. In case this happens to you, there’s a real, plugged in phone at the station. I had to use it to call the hotel, which I had to look up in the phone book next to the phone. Make sure you know where you’re staying and tell them you have no phone for the shuttle driver to reach you.

It was a long day (15+ hours) but worth every moment, and penny! I was pretty wiped out and had an early morning flight back home Sunday so I didn’t venture out on the town. I have no idea what the nightlife is like in Anchorage.

If you’re going to travel alone:
• Leave your itinerary with family or friends back home: including phone numbers of all the places you are staying and going. I sent my information to my friend AFTER I got to Alaska, realizing I told no one where I was exactly.
• Pre-book adventures if there’s a chance they could sell out.
• Talk to the locals and the other travelers you meet. You’re going to hear some great stories.

It’s easy to stay at the hotel and order room service, but maybe don’t do that. It’s hard to admit you made a mistake but that was a terrible decision.

Resources:
Alaska Railroad: www.alaskarailroad.com. Trains in Alaska run mid-May – mid-September.
Trail map: anchorage coastaltrail.com
Federal Building / Public Lands Information Center: www.alaskacenters.gov/anchorage.cfm

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